Civil society calls on EU to intensify support for human rights defenders in the new EU Action Plan

December 16, 2014

Seven major NGOs (Amnesty International, Frontline Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, PBI, Protection International and the World Organisation Against Torture) have made a joint appeal to the EU to improve the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders. This is done in the form of comments on the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. That there is a need for more cohesion was demonstrated by the recent faux pas of the EU in giving a human rights award to Bahrain which can hardly be in line with the recommendations [see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/what-human-rights-day-means-in-bahrain-and-how-the-eu-made-it-worse/].

Effective and meaningful support to HRDs by the EU and its member states should aspire to [excerpts]: I draw attention especially to number 6!

1. Better protect

The EU can achieve better protection of HRDs – including better prevention of the risks associated with their work:

1. Institute a system for the centralised follow-up of all human rights defenders’ cases, and their treatment by the EU and Member states at headquarters and in delegations.

2. Ensure all staff in Delegations in diplomatic missions, and at headquarters, including at the highest level, are aware of the importance of working with and for HRDs, of the EU Guidelines and of the necessity to implement them fully, and of reporting back. Systematically train EU and member states’ staff at all levels on the full implementation of the EU HRD Guidelines;

3. Facilitate emergency measures such as relocation and emergency visas for HRDs, and ensure all staff are aware of procedures. Ensure the facilitation of visas for HRDs visiting decision-makers in the EU and member states in order to reinforce meaningful exchanges on how to support their vital work;

4. Monitor and provide systematic feedback to HRDs, civil society and the public on EU and member states’ actions on HRDs, encouraging meaningful public debate on how to reinforce their vital efforts;

5. Assist and support governments and promote participation of local civil society in developing and implementing public policies and mechanisms for the protection of HRDs; and/or in advocating for the amendment or abrogation of restrictive laws; and in the fight against impunity for human rights violations committed against HRDs;

6. Ensure that an annual Foreign Affairs Council meeting is dedicated to discussing EU efforts to pursue the release of HRD, journalists and others who exercise their rights peacefully. Foreign Ministers should adopt conclusions naming jailed rights advocates from around the world and call for their immediate and unconditional release.  Every three months PSC Ambassadors should take stock, in close collaboration with civil society, of EU efforts to pursue the release of jailed HRDs. EU delegations should be requested to clarify efforts they have undertaken, ahead of these meetings;

7. In the spirit of the EU Guidelines on HRDs, the EU and its member states should commit to documenting and reporting on effective best practices in support of HRDs, and working to reproduce them where relevant in future; organise annual regional workshops with civil society to exchange best practices and lessons learned, and build the capacity of HRDs, and of senior EU and member states’ diplomatic staff.

2. Reach out

EU policies in support of HRDs must also go beyond addressing their protection in emergency situations on an ad hoc basis. This means considering HRDs not only as victims of repression, but as key actors of change in their own country who can likewise provide a valuable contribution to the design of both EU and national policies and decision-making…

8. Implement burden-sharing between the EU and Member states, to ensure that human rights defenders in all regions of a country have access to, and contact with, the EU; that the responsibility for particularly logistically challenging tasks such as trial observation, prison visits or contacts with rural areas does not fall only on one diplomatic mission, and that continued buy-in on human rights issues by all is possible;

9. Actively support HRDs through a flexible combination of concrete actions and public diplomacy, on the basis of effective consultation with concerned HRDs, including public intervention whenever this can improve the security of HRDs at risk;

10. Conduct regular visits to HRDs outside large urban centres, and increase outreach to vulnerable, marginalised HRDs and women HRDs;

11. Clearly communicate the human rights priorities of EU country strategies to local HRDs to facilitate their work.

12. Systematically include meetings with HRDs when planning high level visits to third countries (including visits by member states’ representatives and Members of the European Parliament);

13. Translate the Guidelines on HRDs into local languages, and disseminate them amongst civil society, including different ethnic minority groups and indigenous communities.

3. Do no harm

The EU and its member states should evaluate all actions taken in regard to their compliance with human rights, and concretely monitor trade and development policies and programming to ensure they are consistent with EU and member states’ human rights commitments. The EU should offer HRDs recourse in case their human rights or those of the people they defend are violated. The ‘do no harm’ principle should be integrated in other actions foreseen in the revised Strategic Framework and Action Plan (under ‘trade’, ‘development’ etc…), which is why only key actions are proposed here:

14. Ensure the meaningful consultation/participation of HRDs, possibly through the development of a specific format for regular exchanges, in the preparation of EU and member states’ human rights dialogues, strategies, development programming, and in the context of EU trade and investment policy;

15. When debating national policy with third country governments, the EU should strive to facilitate dialogue between governments and HRDs (for example on security, development, health, etc), and ensure inclusion of HRDs and social organisations in decision-making on these issues;

16. Set up a complaint mechanism for HRDs who have become victims of human rights violations in the context of EU and member states’ policies and investments.

Intensifying the European Union‘s support to human rights defenders: Civil society proposals for the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy / December 16, 2014 / Statements / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

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